The Indian external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, told the parliament that 39 of its citizens who were kidnapped by Islamic State in Iraq in 2014 have been confirmed dead after remains recovered from a mass grave outside Mosul citing that tests had shown a match with the construction workers, who disappeared in June 2014 when the city fell to Isis.
“With full proof I can say these 39 are dead,” Swaraj said on Tuesday. Swaraj recalled that she had said last year that she would not “declare anyone dead without substantive proof.”
Swaraj said ID cards, long hair and the kada bracelets traditionally worn by Sikh men were recovered from the grave of the workers, who mostly hailed from Punjab state. “For verification of the bodies, DNA samples of their relatives were sent there. Four state government — Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar were involved in the process,” she said.
According to Swaraj, the owner of the company for which the 40 Indians were working (along with some Bangladeshis), had warned all his employees to leave when the Islamic State started its campaign to overrun Mosul in June 2014. While the Iraqi nationals working for the company left, the Indians and Bangladeshis stayed behind and were later captured by the Islamic State.
IS was little known before it seized Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, in June 2014 and declared an Islamic ‘caliphate’ (or state) covering large swathes of Iraq and Syria. But the extreme Islamist group had been building its presence in both countries for years, and its impact has since spread across much of the world.
In a manifesto posted online in December 2015 IS had vowed to expand its fight to India, a country it had said was preparing for a future war against Muslims. The manifesto claimed India was part of IS’s Islamic caliphate and said a resurgence of Hinduism meant there was a growing number of Hindus “who kill Muslims who eat beef”.
In 2014, India had issued a travel advisory telling its citizens to not travel to Iraq, and those already there to leave. India has been active in negotiating the release of other citizens captured in the Middle East. A group of 46 Indian nurses were freed in July 2014 by IS after being trapped in Iraq for more than a week.
While, the rise of the Islamic State had made only scant inroads in India, relative to Europe, North America, Southeast Asia etc., there can be no denying that the death of 39 of its citizens has left an entire nation grieving.